At least 50 homes in several Long Island communities surrounding Stony Brook University have been purchased by investors and converted into "boarding houses" for students, according to a local homeowners association and Brookhaven town officials.
Stony Brook homeowners are protesting the houses, arguing the boarding homes threaten their neighborhood and property values.
"They're swallowing up the whole neighborhood," said homeowner Joseph Manzolillo.
In some cases, eight or more students are living in what were initially developed as three- or four-bedroom homes.
Garages have been turned into bedrooms, neighbors said. One home had so many students living there, the owner painted parking spots in the residential driveway.
"These homes were built for families," said longtime resident Richard Pandolfi. "You're turning it into an undesirable situation."
Investors have been purchasing homes for sale at reduced prices in a struggling real estate market, neighbors said. The homes are then renovated and rented to students seeking cheap off-campus housing. The typical renter pays a minimum $500 a month for a single room.
The boarding homes are unsafe and unsightly, and the absentee landlords do not maintain their homes like others in the area, neighbors charge.
But the bigger problem, according to Brookhaven town officials, is that most of the boarding houses don't conform to town codes and are illegal. No home is allowed to have more than four unrelated people living there.
"These are single-family homes not meant to be rooming houses," said Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine. "We are going to be extremely aggressive in going after them."
Brookhaven officials have taken a number of the landlords to court and have proposed increasing fines for those operating the boarding houses.
One landlord, however, insisted the three homes he owns are in compliance with town codes and are safe for students.
"For those who can't afford on-campus housing, we provide an option," said landlord Kai Li. "The argument that our houses are hurting home property values in the area is just wrong."
Brookhaven's deputy town attorney said in all likelihood, Li's homes are not legal.
Brookhaven has enlisted help from the university to help educate students on the problem, Romaine said. Among other things, students should ask to see the landlord's rent permit before moving in.
Despite the town's efforts, some homeowners blamed Brookhaven officials for allowing the boarding house issue to escalate.
"It should never have gone this far. We have to stop it," said homeowner Tony DeRosa.